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NBA AM: Are Celtics Suffering From Overconfidence?

According to Celtics president Danny Ainge, overconfidence and injuries have led to Boston’s slow start.

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To some, the Boston Celtics entered the 2016-17 campaign with legitimate title aspirations. To others, the team was considered one major move away from challenging for the throne. There is an argument that could be made for either side of the equation, but two weeks into the season, the Celtics (3-3) are playing .500 ball and struggling to live up to expectations.

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge believes that a bit of hubris may have seeped into the locker room and that the slow start may ultimately provide a valuable lesson in humility.

“I think it’s a problem with every team,” Ainge told Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald. “I remember in 1986 we had this issue. I mean, every now and then, you’ve just got to get knocked on your tail and realize what it takes. A lot of teams have a lot more room for error, and they’re that talented of a team where they cannot play their best and still win. But we need to play really good basketball in order to win against all the teams in the league. There’s a lot of parity in our league, and winning is tough.”

The Celtics won 48 games last season, but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Atlanta Hawks. This past summer, four-time All-Star center Al Horford departed Atlanta to join Boston on a four-year deal. The arrival of Horford coupled with the arrival of lottery pick Jaylen Brown raised expectations.

However, injuries have played a key role in restricting the team’s momentum. Horford has missed three games while in the league’s concussion protocol, while Jae Crowder has missed two games with a left ankle sprain. Horford may be back within a week, but Crowder is expected to miss a couple of weeks.

Boston has also been without the services of big man Kelly Olynyk, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and has yet to play a game this season. Guard Marcus Smart missed three contests to kick off the campaign.

While the Celtics’ play has been inconsistent, Ainge insists the holes he currently sees in the team’s lineup haven’t been a huge surprise two weeks into the season.

“We knew before the season that we don’t have the great rim protectors and we’re not a great defensive rebounding team,” Ainge said. “We have to win in other ways. We’re still trying to improve our team, and we know that we have some holes, but that’s not the reason why we’re not putting forth the effort that we need to, and I think that Sunday night, to me, rather than overreacting, is a good awakening for our players.

“We’ll see what happens, especially when our team gets healthy. I’m really anxious to see our group have a chance to develop some cohesion and get our top 10 guys together healthy in one night. We’re still waiting on that. I think Sunday we just played poorly, and they shot the ball extremely well. It was a combination of our poor play and their excellent shooting. But you have those nights. It was a bad one, and I think that the good news is that it’s good to be humbled sometimes and to have to pay attention to the details that matter.

“But you have those nights. It was a bad one, and I think that the good news is that it’s good to be humbled sometimes and to have to pay attention to the details that matter.”

The positives for the Celtics have been the play of their starting backcourt of Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, who are on pace for career-years. Thomas is currently averaging 26.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 6.8 assists, while Bradley is posting averages of 19.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

The club hits the road in three of their next four games with stops in Washington, Indiana and New Orleans. The club has a trip to Madison Square Garden to play the Knicks on Friday, November 11.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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